MOBO and Brit award-winning musician Ms. Dynamite was at Buckingham Palace yesterday to accept her MBE. She defended her decision as honouring her Windrush generation grandparents, but with the Windrush scandal still ongoing, author Vanessa Walters asks whether now is the time for nostalgia.
The decision to accept or reject an MBE is personal and often difficult for those whose heritage is in the outposts of empire, who are aware of the mayhem caused by British imperialism in those countries, the painful legacy of which is ongoing. Being made a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire can represent a poisoned chalice as much as an honour. Those who accept have to deal with guilt at co-signing an idea of empire they may have railed against in their professional life and disappointing those who look up to them as anti-establishment.
Many accept and many notably turn it down. While it isn’t always fair to put such expectations on individuals, these decisions often have lasting ramifications for their public image. Most will still remember Benjamin Zephaniah rejecting his MBE in 2003. It was a very validating moment for people of colour, showing you can still be British and still stand against imperialism.
“Since the much vaunted 70 years of Windrush, the story has gone from being one of celebration to a tragedy”
Niomi McLean-Daley, better known as Ms. Dynamite wrote an obviously conflicted article to The Guardian defending her decision to accept as honouring her ‘grandparents, that generation and the sacrifices they made’. It might have been better to not say anything at all as her reasons add insult to injury as if ‘the journey and everything they faced’ were finite acts that happened in the past and not ongoing.
On the contrary, Since the much vaunted 70 years of Windrush, the story has gone from being one of celebration to a tragedy. Thanks to a 2012 policy, those unable to provide documentary evidence of rightful residence – e.g. coming to Britain on their parents’ passports have lost access to employment, housing, medical treatment and even been deported. Some have died as a result. Children born in the UK have been unfairly denied citizenship as adults or are facing prohibitively expensive (and racist) battles to obtain it.
Negative coverage of the crisis largely spearheaded by MP David Lammy has forced public apologies from the Government but the response has been sly and feeble. Former Home Secretary Amber Rudd is back in the cabinet wearing another hat as if lives were not lost and she is not accountable.
“I had to speak to many of that older generation… there was no misty-eyed nostalgia about that journey. The anger and disappointment at the things that they had suffered shocked me”
This wasn’t just an opportunity to make a deep statement about the dark side of Empire. It was a moment where Ms Dynamite could have validated the hurt and anger from the community as well as put added pressure on the Government to redress its wrongs and halt it’s racist policies. We are living in strange times where bigotry and nationalism are bubbling in plain sight. We can’t afford to be complacent.
As Writer in Residence for the Borough of Kensington and Chelsea 2007-2008 to research the legacy of Windrush, which resulted in the publication Smoke! Othello! I had to speak to many of that older generation in the area and there was no misty-eyed nostalgia about that journey. The anger and disappointment at the things that they had suffered shocked me, so the idea that Ms Dynamite accepting this award on their behalf is somehow going to warm the cockles of their heart is misplaced in my opinion. They would prefer justice.
When Ms Dynamite burst onto the music scene she was gritty and outspoken, using her mainstream platform for an (at the time) unglamorous ‘wokeness’. Although it may have cost her some commercial success, it made her an iconic figure, paving a way for her brother the rapper Akala.
The decision to give this award to Ms Dynamite however deserved seems a cynical attempt to dilute some of the anger coming out of the Caribbean while still continuing racist immigration policies in the name of empire and she fell for it.